Tag Archives: Pope Francis

Sex, Race, Money and the American Experience

While there has been a good bit of conversation about the possibility that Hillary Clinton may become the first woman to assume the Presidency of the United States the United Kingdom has in fact elected a new female Prime Minister, the second in their history. If Hillary Clinton is elected then for at least a little while the two countries would have something more in common than merely female heads of government. She is also the current Home Secretary which is an analogous position to the that of the Secretary of State of the United States.  both she and Hillary Clinton have been the beneficiary of elite educational institutions in their countries. Doubtless one could list many other similarities but in fact the two women strike me as profoundly different people produced in part by profoundly different political systems. The sexual contexts are not so profoundly different but upon looking closer at same sex marriage law in Britain and the USA one finds very different regimes and oppositions, likewise on abortion, sperm banking and literally a host of other issues. Whether it is better or not there is very often a capacity to compromise and reach legislative splitting of the difference in the UK. In addition rule by judicial review is much more limited. For those reasons as well as others May represents a different kind of feminist synthesis that the one Hillary Clinton has long been associated with in this country.


Theresa May is a thoroughgoing enough politician who is committed to the electoral process and aware of it. Theresa May did not become presumptive  Prime Minister in a general election but rather in the election for Conservative Party Leadership when David Cameron stepped down after failing to keep Britain in the European Union. This is not unusual, in the 24 times that the UK has changed Prime Minister in the last century half of those occasions did not involve a general election. The leadership election came about because Cameron had put too much political capital on the BRexit referendum to continue in office when the Leavers defeated him. However, as Britain has recently passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act, this change in leadership is not likely to cause a general election to be held early although it may…  This is something not only unusual but  new for Brits to adjust to, no row of whether or not to have a vote of no confidence is at all assured of amounting to much in the new set of rules.  In the meanwhile the final two people produced by the first rounds of the Conservative Party leadership chase presented the rank and file membership with two candidates to choose from both of whom were female and they have chosen Prime Minister Theresa May. Assuming Royal Assent and Her Majesty asking the woman to take the job as she did for Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher back in the day, then May will take the job in a place in the Queen’s presence sometime after Cameron officially resigns  following tomorrow’s (Wednesday, July 13) Prime Minister’s Questions. A bit of what she says about her own vision of her administration of Her Majesty’s Government can be read here. She appears to be sincere enough about bringing the benefits of her party’s vision for Britain to more people of more modest means. In America there is a lot of discussion about the wage gap between men and women and how it affects families. There is less discussion of increasing morbidity among men, declining employment among men and the myriad of other sexually related disasters afflicting primarily meant in this country — affecting men in distinction to women.  One senses that in Britain they are facing the struggles we face with a feminism that is less anti-mail than our version is in a number of ways. That has to be put into the context of two female prime ministers and the fact that British suffragettes really fought violently to bring about change early in the twentieth century. They of course suffered real violence and the disorder of their movement would make and interesting comparison to the chaos I see in the Black Lives Matter movement — but that is beyond the scope of this post.

I am quite sure that the struggle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for leadership of our country will in part be affected by how Americans believe a man or a woman would respond to the violence, protests, police shooting and racial tensions which shape our experience of city streets and television viewing in these days. Doubtless whatever they do will be shaped in large part by their own experience as the man or the woman that in fact they are. Their views and actions will also be shaped by their experience as Americans. One factor in this Black Lives Matter centered current crisis is that the lens is very much exclusive of sexual assault against women. The lens is not inclusive of black grievances of sexual abuse under slavery, of white womanhood being subject to the attacks of black male sexual predation. The focus is on the protesting of acts of violence by police against black men who in most cases so far have a history of trouble with the law. In the case of a few like Philando Castille the man seemed to be a pillar of the community and not a violent criminal who was armed, did have many run-ins with police and was confused with a robbery suspect. Michael Brown and Alton Sterling seemed to have a number of violent criminal acts in their past. Black reactions to these deaths among the minority who lead Black Lives Matter has tended to be unreasonably indiscriminate at countless levels. the hate filled chants, throwing of blocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails have added criminal violence to their vision of a policing ethic which would destroy the country in my opinion.   But in all this chaos we have heard no reports of sexual assaults to speak of — why I am not sure. Perhaps there have been very few.  This contrasts with my vivid memory of the Lara Logan assault during the Arab Spring protests. So far now all of this is taking place with a low level of direct connection to sexual  violence at least. Nonethless the connections of racial and sexual politics in this country cannot be entirely severed. Philando Castille looked edgy but was one of the most securely the middle class persons celebrated by Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the victims it celebrates are not financially secure. The Dallas cop killer however was apparently prosperous and was involved in this movement.

Black lives matter

Sometimes it is easy to think of all the reasons why being a  Catholic  are compelling and all the reasons why I am glad to be one. Sometimes it is easy to think of a good number of reasons why I am glad to be an American. Sometimes  not so much is obvious when I try to count the blessings of being a Catholic American. Then there are days when all of the problems and obstacles in my life seem to clearly outweigh any positive and hopeful energies that I might be able to muster.  Yet even on those days it is not impossible to find some cause for rejoicing. I recently read the Papal encyclical which  has the English language title the Joy of Love.   A pdf version should be available here: papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en

Among Black Americans the marriage rate is low. It’s been shown to correlate to many problems in that section of the American population. The energy behind gay marriage masks the decline of marriage rates as a whole. Marriage plays many important roles in society.  The professional agitators in leadership in many American movements today benefit from the single state of more people who are more attracted to protests.   I’m aware of myself as being single in a way I never saw coming. Many people are single in such ways. The pope is urging the Catholic Church to find ways to make meaningful and personal weddings accessible to young couples in a context which encourages lower cost options. This is addressing the real role cost plays in keeping people from tying the knot. That’s especially true for church weddings. This is kind of a crisis, Pope Francis has addressed among others. I’m not going to quote all of his attempts to set forth a vision for Christian sexual and marital institutions,

Sexual politics is not a simple matter today in America and never has been a simple matter for anyone anywhere. politics has never been a simple matter and human politics never has been a simple matter.  But I think these are more challenging times than most. I think that the Pope has some things to say that many Americans need to hear or read. But I think white Americans are really facing a moment for coming to a sense of sexual clarity and I think that the Pope has something to say to them, to us. The encyclical reminds us all of what a basic sexual ideal for our society or any other might be.

What does the drama of American sexual politics as evinced in the Pulse Nightclub shootings, the debates over same sex marriage and other tensions of our society have to do with the recent encyclical from Pope Francis?  I myself think that the real emphasis we are losing on a livable sexual ideal is something that we need to consider as a great risk. To a remarkable degree sexuality in America in my lifetime has been typified by open conflict between the sexes. A resulting atmosphere of suspicion and distrust has colored relationships between persons most committed to building enduring relationships of trust and love. Approaching members of the opposite sex has seen new challenges emerge.

One group of Americans who have played and continue to play a role in our struggle to understand sexualtity or an informal and unofficial group of women who are the American sex symbols. They are usually not pornographic symbols and are not courtesans by and large. They vary tremendously in what they represent and how they love but they somehow make us aware of both challenges and ideals we face as a nation. at any given time their names and a faces and bodies speak to us of different struggles and hopes we have as sexual beings in this country. It is in their real lives and selves that we are sometimes able to picture what we wish our sexual identity to be and how it relates to womanhood, procreation and love among other things…


The future of this country is nonexistent without families and without a reasonably healthy sexuality. We will not resolve the tensions between blacks and the police or  the tensions that resonate in our political dysfunction without recognizing where we have gotten and where we have come from and without thinking seriously about where we are going as regards the realities of sex, race, money and how those matter to American families. Likewise we will not get anywhere good without seeing all the ways Americans are eager to protect their families however flawed they are and also the real limits of that protection in every case.    I include here a verse from an acrostic love poem that I sent after sending another and receiving no answer.  It’s about flirting on the internet after a fashion. About finding the limits of seeking love without a close personal association in real life.

Now comes the time for a pause in my poetic email,

One thing is sending verse to the love one has at hand.

Too different is this shooting into the dark gaps across the land.

Even the madness of the laws of our time 

That poem is not the issue but what our society believes about sex and how it portrays the appeal of sex is very relevant to what direction we are going in. My life is nobody’s sexual ideal. But my life is lived according to certain sexual ideals.

Ünderworlds of love and sexuality deserve to be remembered but the Pope reminds us of how love makes family and family shapes both society and the Christian faith. Sexuality is to be both ideal and ordinary for people of all races and cultures. That is the Christian vision he invites us to share.


 Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill (cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus (cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10).

I end this reflection with another quote from an unsuccessful love poem. I will say that love poems were part of my life when love was more a part of my life– so they have not all been unsuccessful. But perhaps the difference was in the life context. This poem reflects on the changes in situations..

My youth is long behind me, an almost forgotten circumstance today

Young men’s loving words and bold lines are not mine to safely say.

Aside from my own life, I think we have to look at the vision for love in this country, for sex and for sexuality. Where is it heading and where should it be heading?


Papal Canonizations: A Brief Insight

This week at the Holy See in Vatican City at Rome Italy the current Pope Francis I and the Pope emeritus Benedict XVI will preside over the “raising to the glory of the altars” the names and reputations of Pope John XXIII who called the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II who traveled more than any other Pope, reigned longer than almost any other and whose life before he was Pope John Paul II made this first Polish pope very unique.

Canonization is of course always about the person. It is less about the work and career than most honors. Those things are considered but personal holiness is more considered. The life of Pope John Paul II has been masterfully written and redacted by an American scholar. You can link to the sale of George Weigel’s book here. In the case of John XXIII there is a book which is about his life and in which most of the text is written by the sainted pope himself but which probably does not meet quite the definition of autobiography under which it has been marketed all or most of my life. You can link to a copy of that book here. But it is perhaps required that i state here in this brief post that I have no doubt that both men have a great deal to say to our age by life, example and writing. Neither one is devoid of all controversy.

Pope John XXIII was a pastor in Fascist Italy and Pope John Paul II was pastor of the universal church when much of the pedophilia scandal was continuing as a crisis of discipline and truthfulness among other things. There is no doubt that both men studied morality seriously, that both men risked much for what they believed, that both men attacked antisemitism,  varied religious hatreds and many forms of intellectual blindness. There is no doubt that both men fostered cooperation to improve the lot of ordinary and not so ordinary people in suffering and crisis around the world. There is no doubt that both men sought to speak the Gospel of Christ Jesus to the modern world. So should they be canonized?

Technically, the requirement for a second verified miracle after the saint has died and is in the Beatific Vision has been wived for John XXIII and the requirement of a waiting period at the start was waived under the Santo Subito pressures around the death of Pope John Paul II.  Both men have therefore gotten a bit of a pass on the full rigors of the process.

While I will not get a chance to watch much of the process I will try to post more about it after the event. I think it will be a worthy and noble celebration. The television and radio network based in Birmingham , Alabama in the United States has extensive coverage of the event and the lives of the two men. You can link to that information here. I hope people will look at it with an appreciation of its sincerity and its greatness as an expression of a faith community. But there is also a risk in the decision to canonize a Pope which does not exist in other saints. The Pope holds authority in a real situation  where human feelings are hurt, human mistakes made and human lives upset. It seems perhaps to be too much to ask those who lost out to a Pope in Life to have him included in their liturgies after his death as a specially recognized companion of Christ. But on the other hand that is what sanctity is all about — holiness in the real world. Further as different as these popes were it is true that both sought to expose this meaning of daily sanctity to the Church and the World.

Both of these men in my opinion have been more likely to be confirmed to the glory of the altars than are either of the two living Popes who will be there. John Paul II may be faulted for not having done more to stop the murder of Jewish children in Poland by the truck loads but he did oppose the Nazis at the risk of his life, he did witness to and oppose the Communists effectively at the risk of his life and run the most honest philosophy lecture for a thousand miles in any direction. He did get shot by an Muslim on a Communist payroll. He did struggle mightily on the grandest scale as Pope for the things he believed.  Pope John XXIII made the Second Vatican Council happen and it is difficult for a  non-Catholic to imagine what was required to make that happen. I do not think this very popular Pope nor the elderly Apostle of the Longsuffering Germans  is likely to leave a record so clearly one of heroic virtue. The risk of scandal which may offset the real merits of Benedict or Francis looms larger because of what is not there in the positive column.

The two living popes are very different as are the two men raised to the honor of being recognized by the Universal Church as saints.  I have written a good bit about Pope Francis in the posts linked at the lower potion of this post. I feel I have largely covered this great American-Italian-Argentine-Jesuit breakthrough in those linked posts  although not in this post itself. So I feel I can leave aside a brief biography of Francis but can be  less sparing about Pope Benedict.

Josef Ratzinger, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI was the second consecutive Patriarch of Rome, Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pontiff and Successor to the Throne of St. Peter who has not been an Italian and he has now been suceeded by the first in a while who is both Italian and not Italian as well as an American and an Argentine. His role in making Popes from outside Italy alone is very important to the health of the Church that (without saying the Italians are not a great people and without saying that Bishops ought mostly to come from their own lands or related lands) and is a very good thing. It would probably be good if about half of all Popes were Italian over time but I would not want to see dozens of Popes in a row who were not Italian so everyone must do the best they can and perhaps the current Pope is an elegant solution.

Benedict is saddled with some responsibility for being part of the German theological establishment some of that is good and some is not. I have views differing from those held in the Church’s halls of power about some of the merits of these Germans. Josef Ratzinger is also a German who fought in the regular nonpolitical part of the German forces doing his duty in World War II and is a very accomplished scholar. However, the service to any state headed by Adolf Hitler and his lunatics is a blemish on the Papacy. But the Papacy has had many blemishes — nonetheless I do not lay all the blame on him personally but I do hold it against him. He seems to indicate in his public life that he remembers the insanity of Nazi political religion and although his experience was more ambiguous than he admits he will work to see that the liturgy and practice of the Church draws forth a milieu such as produced Mozart, the Bach family and the Gothic Cathedrals. The Pope he is will be remembered in the context of the German he is and it will be hard to find a route to canonization in all probability.

Like  John Paul II he did try to reach out to the Jews. There are problems in doing so that are real and he never looked to skilled at it. But in addition he has more to explain and  offset. If he could  have said anything kind and honest to the Jews in the way of professional advice that acknowledged some continuity of Hebrew liturgy  and have had  it well received he would advise them to invest in their worship and liturgy to reach and surpass the heights of the Temple’s musical past. That was a route, perhaps a concert shared together in the gardens, Perhaps more Hebrew in the newer forms of the Latin Mass. For those who judge such matter not so officially there is a great deal to offset in service to the Third Reich. But there is a vast set of problems regarding discussions of the period. Certainly the NAZI regime had more justification for panic and insecurity and rage than we in the USA are usually willing to teach our children, Nor is it unreasonable that we have a cast to our view of things. But Dolan, Law and Hannan  were never serious contenders for the Papacy and this man was  and is Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI had at once upon election to contend with a very broad spectrum of issues and demands and  brought to bear his talents as a writer, thinker and organizer as well as his prodigious mental capacities. He has written about Jesus Christ in a very compelling way and has sought to bring the Christ of Faith, the Jesus of History and the Jesus Christ of Cultural developments into a proper and good focus centered around the Jesus revealed in the Gospels. This is certainly a worthy goal and it fits in the larger context of a body of work. He specifically struggles with that German Teutonic impulse towards the struggle of the spiritual and the State which has always been pronounced but which which has been agonizingly dysfunctional since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But in all the heroism of his struggle he does not lay out the offsetting values that erase the sins and scandals of his time from memory.

Pope Francis is on a honeymoon with the whole world right now and is a formidable pastor. I love that he brings Jesuit skills to bear. But there will be scandals form his past in Argentina. When they emerge I doubt I will be as critical as many. I know how hard it is to look good in horrific situations. But he was a fixer, mover and shaker struggling day in and out in a country in a long and bloody turmoil. Eventually someone will present evidence that something he did or did not do contributed to the death or ruin of an innocent person.  I am drowning in self respect and the same could be said of my life. It is just impossible in my view to come out of some situations unblemished. But all the adulation now will make it harder to take whether it comes before or after his death.  I hope and tend to think he has risked himself to help those in trouble.

I am going to try to write a little something about the canonization of two recent popes and the ceremony at which two popes will be present. Here is  a post discussing some of the early reactions to the papal reign of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio — Pope Francis.  Here and here are posts I put up about the transition when Pope Benedict resigned and before Pope Francis was elected.  So far as it goes there is no doubt that the papacy has been a serious and sustained interest in this blog. There is also no doubt that if a major scandal breaks regarding Pope Benedict or Pope Francis that there will be people remembering having read things here that they never read extolling these men. I have done little extolling.

However, this is a great day for the Papacy. It is a glorious celebration and I am proud to see the Church reaching out to past and future. But it is a risky time for the church and a good time to be a bit self-critical. My own views are written and published in this blog at length.  I respectfully look to Rome form where I stand as myself.

Thoughts on the Papacy of Francis: American Reactions

by Frank Wynerth Summers III ( Facebook Notes) on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 9:02pm
It is an amazing achievement to have 266 successors to Saint Peter. Part of the joy of a Papal election relates to the sense Catholics have of all this. I am not really sure that I will ever feel the connection to any Papal transition that I felt to the start of John Paul II’s pontificate. Some have drawn comparisons between our current Pope Francis and John Paul I. I hope that nobody feels the shadow of the worst and most obvious aspect of that Pontificate. I want to say that I am writing this note as much about myself as about the Pope in one sense. I am looking at the specific aspects of the papacy which seem particularly relevant to me as a citizen of the USA and as one who is associated with the people I know and relate to in my life. The Pope is in many ways an affirmation of my life: my name, ties to Latina America and experience with the Jesuits. But I will alsomention some unique causes for concern. I have spent lots of time with Jesuits and in Latin America. Ialso have a strong interest in Eastern Christianity and although I cannot get into that aspect of this Pope very well it is one of his strenghts that he is aware of and knowledgeable about the Eastern Catholics with their languages rites and married clergy. But I will not give details here of my own biography I will only give a very few of his biographical notes. I want to look at reactions and feelings as well.

Clearly Pope Francis has the strength and resources necessary for a long and challenging reign if his health and circumstances permit such a thing. I will suggest that as to the nervousness many feel some of it is an unconscious response to some unique qualities of the current situation. Many Catholics may in a rational way feel that it is important for us to recognize that we have an historic opportunity to recognize this new Pope from the Americas and to see the hand of God in all of this and yet there are reasons that while many may rejoice in the humility and informality of manner of the new Pope it is also concerning in a church as large and diverse as this. We must trust and do trust that all is in good order but yet we wonder if the combination of communication between current and former Popes and the manner of the new Pope make it unclear who is the Pope. Yet there are surely many reasons why the average Catholic can proceed with confidence regardless. Nonetheless, one can suggest that while not being all that uncertain, this is the most uncertain trumpet call that the rank and file of Catholics may remember in the Holy See. For we have a Pope whose due and proper election nobody doubts who is still alive and we have another Pope who has foresworn most of the trappings of the taking of command. We all know he has taken command but only with reason and not so much with our subconscious minds.

In my confidence that we do in fact have a new Pope, I am writing a note about my first reaction to the election of Pope Francis. I do not think that there is a simple reaction that covers all the aspects of what I feel and think. But perhaps there is something I might be able write that is both true and insightful. First I want to really welcome to the titles of Supreme Pontiff, First Among Patriarchs and our Vicar of Christ this new man Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio former Archbishop of Buenos Aires and now Pope Francis! A joyous day for the first Jesuit pope, the first of his chosen name, the first from this hemisphere and the first from outside Europe in well over one thousand years. This is a happy and exciting day for me as a Catholic. I am moved and touched and expected to be neither even if a very great man were elected. An old friend asked me why I was moved and I tried to respond as best I could by remarking that I have known many Jesuits they have been my closest friends among the clergy, I mentioned them in my note on the transition, I am pleased to have a Latin American, pleased with much of his resume and although he was not on my very short list of preferred candidates he is one I thought well of overall. But really emotions are not reason, I did not expect to be moved this time mostly because I am in a generally bad mood. But I was wrong, I was moved and feel hopeful. I am also touched because my name is Frank and many of my friends have called me Francisco which is the name he will ask his friends to call him now in the third person. Beyond all that, it relieves on who has long lived present to all the world to have an Italian-American clearly demonstrate that the New World can produce a Pope who is taken seriously by all those European Cardinals and others.

Besides being a Latin American he is most notably a Jesuit. He will be required to distance himself more from his order than would some other order which welcome the fuller participation of those in very high Church office. He is already in that catgory of exclusion as a Cardinal under the Jesuit rule and arguably as a Pope will be more able to bend the rules than before. the Society of Jesus—the Roman Catholic religious order, also known as the Jesuits. As the largest male religious order of the Catholic Church, the Society of Jesus is present in virtually every country in the world, currently organized in roughly 100 Provinces and Regions. However they have a strong tradition of not contending for the Papacy from this unique position and there are countless other obstacles. However, in addition to being present to most local churches and cultures, the Society is an international body, and has always sought ways to strengthen our ministries via international collaboration through the close relationship between two Jesuit Provinces called twinning and the new development by the Society of Jesus of structures called Conferences which bring together Provinces in major geographical areas so that they might work together more effectively. With a huge presence in the Roman Curia and this expertise in dealing with many of the issues facing the Church around the world.

The fact that his father was an imigrant from the same part of Italy as his maternal grandparents hailed from does not change the fact that he was born to a native Argentine mother and is himself a native Argentine. There are certainly priest in Latin America who are deeply influenced by the Marxian and Marxist streams of thought and activity but Pope Francis was not one of those. However, he did grow up and has lived out his life in the great Latin American debate about justice. That is a conversation that has shaped much of my own life and thought as well.United States Americans wonder where this conversation will lead. I think Pope Francis will make us think a great deal more as a church about Justice than we sometimes have but I do not think he will lead us in the mode of a radical Leftist critique. Perfect justice is not attainable here and now on planet Earth and it is certainly a question honest people can debate as to whether it is ever obtainable. But to strive for justice and seek it out is one of the great human ventures. I am very interested in justice and always have been. But I am aware that merely seeking justice in general has a real price.

I am writing this note with more than a little bit of a heavy heart. Yet with a sense of resolve as well…
The truth is that there is only the weariness of long sensing justice denied in one’s own life that distinguishes those who become the most determined resisters of the status quo from many of their neighbors.

There have been many reactions that I have been aware of in this process. I am going to quote a part of two priestly reactions and to be fair both of them move to more deliberately positive and hopeful reflections on the new papacy than what my quotes represent. However, the shared surprise indicated in their responses seems to be worth quoting here. A priest on my Facebook friends list who ministers on the campus of my undergraduate alma mater blogged: “Just like most everyone else, I was shocked when the name surname “Bergoglio” was pronounced by Cardinal Tauran. Like so many, I was expecting to hear Scola, Ouellet, Ravasi, O’Malley, or even Dolan. But obviously, the Holy Spirit had other plans. Indeed, in his choice of fishermen as the first apostles, Christ chose the individuals others would least expect to be leaders of his Church. Christ has a habit of confounding the worldly wise! These other Cardinals seemed to many from both within and without the Church, to be the most “logical” possible successors of John Paul II and Benedict, but the Cardinals were inspired in a different direction. It’s humbling to realize how easy it is for us, even as faithful Catholics, to think we know what is best for the Church. How our ways are not God’s ways! (I will admit I was pulling for Ouellet because he directed my thesis, and I thought it would be neat to be able to say that the Pope directed my thesis.” The word shocked is a strong word and yet it is mirrored in other reactions such as that of another priest in my diocese: “Those who know me know that my actions are not impulsive nor are my thoughts or words rash. And since many have asked what I think about our new Holy Father and perhaps seemed to receive no answer, I offer my thoughts, which can be grouped according to three responses of my mind and heart to the great surprise of Pope Francis’ election:

Nervous. When the announcement was made, I was very nervous just like the crowd’s response in St. Peter’s Square indicated. That nervousness comes from the unknown…knowing little to nothing about Pope Francis. I’m also nervous about him being a Jesuit. They have quite a record in contemporary times…and we’ve never had a Jesuit Pope. One of the main reasons for being nervous is because of my love for the Sacred Liturgy and all that has been done in recent years to reform and restore its reverence and authentic celebration. Finally I think I’m nervous because I am afraid of what could happen in terms of a hijacking…we can already see some folks interpreting his life, teaching, and ministry in a very shallow way and for their own purposes. In the final days of his pontificate, Benedict XVI said that this hijacking of the Second Vatican Council’s authentic teaching happened in the years that followed it because of the media and other certain modern theologians at the time and we’re just now able to see clearly the effects of that rupture.”

There was never any doubt about the fact that many Americans have indicated some shock and surprise and so have some around the world. My Facebook page has already seen me communicating with someone who has been a friend for many years and who informed me that he was Jesuit educated and had a soft place in his heart for the men that taught him and yet felt uncertainty about a Jesuit Pope. He felt that his Jesuit instructors had all been good men who fed his mind and prepared him very well for college but he was not sure that they were raching out effectively to him spiritually at that time. I have heard others say such things but they do not really reflect my own experience. I have known Jesuits in outreach to the disadvantaged, at universities and in the regular silent retreats I have made over the years but also as parish priests and in wider fields of work in the Missions and in growing dioceses. My friend educated by the Jesuits as a youth seems to have come to point of deciding that his feelings were almost all positive, stating: “I am definitely intrigued, he seems the best of both sides, a highly intellectual and committed spiritual man. I am also excited by the name he chose. St. Francis was charged with restoring the church back to its spiritual roots. What a great mission in these times of chaos and spiritual upheaval.”

Each Catholic must feel their way into this transition and much more so the Pope must make his way forward. I am not feeling at all well about my own immediate future and so it is easy to overlook the oromise that may be found in change. However, for American Catholics of the United States and for their neighbors in this country there are some more challenges associated with accepting and embracing the Papacy of the former Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio S. J. He has reminded us along with other things which remind us of the complexity of a world often portrayed in simplistic terms. The Archbishop of Buenos Aires and not the Archbishop of New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago or Miami will be the first Pope and we have to face the challenges of seeing what other sources of influence there are in our hemisphere. We must be able to communicate with the world and that is not always easy. China has never been well understood by the US government and business culture and has been through a great deal of change continuously for over one hundred and fifty years and that makes it harder to understand. An understanding of reiligion in China is not really a possible national goal unless a lot changes. The situation in Russia has changed from Soviet Atheism to a society where parents selct from a menu of religious instruction for their children. Those religious instruction options are Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam or a sort of hybrid course offering a combination of religious history, secular ethics and civic morals. Britain has an official Church in each realm of the United Kingdom, Japan has a divine Emperor, Germany and France have numerous supports to religious frameworks unkown to us and they ones they reject are done so forcefully in socially demanding ways. This Pope is from an order of Catholic educators and has many opinions about them. He also knows that secular education without reference to religion is usually more likely to be of the COmmunist or Nazi totalitarian kind than certainly the very rare historically rare nihilism of American public school curricula. One wonders not only about what American families hear but also about what many parts of the world think about the complete lack of awareness of religious and ethical formation implicit in much of our way of doing things. To quote Obama’s most recent State of the Union Address:
“And that has to start at the earliest possible age. Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for a private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America. That’s something we should be able to do.
Every dollar we invest in high-quality early childhood education can save more than seven dollars later on — by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own. We know this works. So let’s do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.”

What about addressing the need to form people and families more properly at a level that can only be conceived in religious terms? America has many issues that need addressing. They are religious and familial and as a government advances its claims without real reigion and real family elements it is always destructive (although it may do some good as well). Some Americans are worried about a Pope who comes from the land of the Perrons, a place where Nazis have operated most broadly in the post World War Two Western Hemisphere and a land where ideological struggle has different spectra than it does in our country. I personally believe that Pope Francis is tied to many great ideas and institutions and has the influences even of people like me because of who he is and what he is that mitigate against any bad influences in his world and background. He is also a man with many admirable qualities. However, Americans Catholic and otherwise can rightly regret not having the first Pope from this hemisphere. But somehow we must wake up to the many ways in which we are moving ourselves out of most of the most important games in the world. It is not too late fro us to be truly great but it is getting too late. Too many questions are not even addressed and too many prices are not paid. We will fall behind places like Argentina more and mor eif we keep doing the things that are sapping our energy and strength…